Unapologetic Christianity from Chris Sinkinson: Defending Daniel


Unapologetic ChristianitySome Bible books have a harder time being accepted as historically reliable than others.

Among the Old Testament books, Daniel often takes a beating. The critical reaction frequently reflects a skeptical attitude to miracles (did Daniel really spend a night in a den of lions?) or to predictive prophecy (was Daniel really able to predict the rise and fall of later empires?). As a consequence, many critics date these books late and suggest they are Jewish legends with prophecies of events that had already taken place included to make them sound authentic.

We may be tempted to sidestep these criticisms. But that evasion is short-sighted. If we reject something as spurious because it contains miracles or accurate predictive prophecy then eventually that attitude will undermine the gospel. What is left of the ministry of Jesus if we reject miracles? What is left of the gospel if we reject prophecy of future events?

It is ironic that all the accumulating archaeological and material evidence supports the reliability of Daniel, while nothing has been found to undermine it. S.R. Driver (1846-1914), professor of Hebrew at Oxford, wrote one of the most influential commentaries on Daniel and dated its final form to what is called the Maccabean period (c. 165 BC). This was long after the Babylonian exile (c. 609-536 BC), in which the book claims to be set.

One reason Driver gave is the book’s use of Aramaic which we know would come into fashion closer to the time of the New Testament. However, another reason must surely be the presence of predictive prophecy. Daniel predicts a succession of kingdoms following the Babylonians. If he wrote these around 580 BC then his vision of the future proved remarkably accurate. If they were written in 165 BC then there is no miraculous element!

As a matter of fact, Driver’s redating of Daniel still fails to deny its predictive content. Daniel predicts four empires of which the fourth is clearly a description of Rome. Even placing Daniel in the time of the Maccabees still puts it a century prior to the rise of Rome in the region. To get around this, critics had to include an extra empire between Persia and Greece. The bizarre result is that they denied Daniel the ability to accurately predict the future but attributed to him a very clumsy recording of the past.

However, what do we know since the work of Driver that has helped us to date Daniel? Quite a lot — and nothing that would support Driver’s theory.

Dead Sea Scrolls

Most importantly, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls from 1947 onwards, has provided a vast number of ancient biblical texts that enable us to have much greater confidence in the reliability of the copying of the Bible. The Dead Sea Scrolls include eight copies of Daniel, along with several related writings that use material from the book. Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls the earliest complete text of Daniel in Hebrew dated to the tenth century AD. The earliest Dead Sea texts of Daniel are dated to 125 BC. As these are copies of copies they point to a much earlier date for the original.

Furthermore, the Dead Sea Scrolls have turned the presence of Aramaic in the book from the supposed late dating into additional evidence for the early date of the book.

Aramaic scripts and vocabulary of the Dead Sea copies demonstrate a much earlier form than those of other second century BC examples. In other words, far from indicating a late date, the Aramaic used in Daniel now suggests a much earlier date than critics like Driver could have known. In fact, scholars now suggest that the Aramaic used in Daniel is of a form originating in Babylon rather than Judea. The origins of the book lie in a period much earlier than Driver guessed and a location far from Jerusalem.

Recommendations

The evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls bolsters our continuing confidence in Daniel and consigns more recent commentaries to the dustbins of history! Of course, this brief article only scratches the surface of the value of the Dead Sea Scrolls for apologetics. For much more detail I would recommend Randall Price’s Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls(Harvest House, 1996) or, at a more scholarly level, Christian Beginnings and the Dead Sea Scrolls, edited by John J. Collins and Craig A. Evans (Baker Books, 2006).

It is also worth noting that there is a wealth of nonsense written on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Much of this was a result of the air of conspiracy that surrounded the slow publication of scroll translations. Since all the manuscripts are now publically accessible in translation, books making outlandish claims about the Dead Sea Scrolls are gradually disappearing. However, the desert region around the Dead Sea remains a favourable location to preserve ancient manuscripts and so there is a good chance that more will be discovered in the years to come!

 

Chris Sinkinson is pastor of Alderholt Chapel and lectures at Moorlands College

This article was first published in the September 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

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